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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 September, 2003, 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK
Spotlight on Hoon's dossier role
Geoff Hoon
Mr Hoon: Under pressure
Whitehall sources have contradicted reports that Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon is to be accused by a key inquiry of misleading MPs about the Iraq dossier.

The London Evening Standard newspaper says the claim against Mr Hoon is to be made by MPs in the Intelligence and Security Committee's (ISC) report, which is due to be published on Thursday.

Downing Street has categorically denied claims it leaked the report and says it is is discussing having an inquiry into the leak with the committee.

"We do regard the leak as a very serious matter and the committee will want to look at how it occurred," said Tony Blair's official spokesman.

The report, on the use of intelligence in the run-up to war with Iraq, is said to conclude that the 45 minute claim should not have been included in the dossier - but also reportedly clears Alastair Campbell of having it inserted against the wishes of the intelligence services.

The members of the Intelligence and Security Committee will be hopping mad that their report should be mishandled in this way
Menzies Campbell
Lib Dem deputy leader
The leaked report led Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith to accuse Tony Blair of "spinning" its conclusions and, by not publishing it now, of leaving Mr Hoon "twisting in the wind".

Mr Blair responded, during their 30 minute House of Commons question time clash, that it would be "quite wrong" to make any judgments on the report until it is published.

The newspaper claims the report says Mr Hoon ignored advice from senior civil servants and denied to the ISC that Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) were unhappy with the dossier.

It says the committee brands Mr Hoon's actions "misleading" and "unhelpful".

Leak under question

But Whitehall sources have told the BBC that, contrary to the newspaper report, Mr Hoon volunteered the information that there were disputes within the DIS when he appeared before the Intelligence and Security Committee.

BBC political editor Andrew Marr said he had also been told that one element of the Evening Standard report was completely wrong - but not which bit.

The Hutton Inquiry into the death of government weapons expert Dr David Kelly heard last week evidence from members of DIS about their unhappiness with some of the content of the dossier, which was published last September.

Dr David Kelly
Dr Kelly: Death prompted Hutton inquiry
The ISC report is also expected to shed light on what was said when Dr Kelly gave evidence in private to the MPs two days before he was found dead.

His appearance before them came after he was named as the suspected source for a BBC Today programme item claiming the government had "sexed up" the threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

The BBC said its source cited the dossier's high profile claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes as something which had been included in the dossier at the behest of Downing Street against the wishes of the intelligence services.

The Intelligence and Security Committee report was passed to Downing Street on Tuesday for Tony Blair to check before it is published by Downing Street on Thursday.

The newspaper says the report will say the claim that Saddam Hussein could have weapons of mass destruction deployed within 45-minutes of giving an order should never have been included in the dossier.

But, the newspaper says, the MPs say faults in the dossier were due to honest mistakes or muddle.

Too vague

The newspaper says the report will endorse the way the dossier was produced, saying it was handled properly by both Downing Street and John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee who had ownership of it.

I do not believe that this report did emanate from Downing Street and I have nothing to support any implication that it did
Tony Blair's official spokesman, when asked if No 10 leaked the ISC report

In the Commons Mr Duncan Smith demanded to know whether Mr Blair would sack Mr Hoon if the newspaper reports were true.

He accused senior Downing Street officials of spinning their version of the ISC report, adding: "You can get rid of Alastair Campbell and even the defence secretary but the lying and the spinning won't stop until you get rid of this prime minister."

Mr Blair denied that the report had been leaked by anyone in Downing Street and paid tribute to Mr Hoon, saying that under him British armed forces had won a "magnificent victory" in Iraq and were now playing a "heroic" role in the rebuilding of Iraq.

Menzies Campbell, for the Lib Dems, said the members of the ISC "will be hopping mad that their report should be mishandled in this way".

He argued the leak should not deflect attention from whether intelligence was inadequate or mishandled in the run-up to war.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Mark Mardell
"Are doors closing on Mr Hoon's career?"



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